Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

Choosing a Fly Reel

Once you’ve picked out your fly rod (see Choosing the Right Fly Rod Part 1 and Part 2 for more information), choosing a fly reel is your next step. You’ll often hear that the fly reel is not a very important aspect of the fly fishing gear. I would have to disagree.  I feel that a quality fly reel is essential for when you hook into that fish of a lifetime and all that stands between you and that monster of a fish is your gear.

Choosing Fly ReelWhen I first started fly fishing and was choosing a fly reel, I went for the cheapest fly reel I could find.  That was mostly because of a lack of funds for my new fly fishing addiction, but partly because I thought what most people think…that it just wasn’t important since it only really held the fly line.  While that is the primary function of a fly reel, there is still the aspect of fighting fish.  There will be times when your drag on that fly reel makes the difference between landing that 30 incher and not.  My first fly reel failed me and I’d hate for that to happen to you.

 Key Points in Choosing a Fly ReelRoss Evolution LT Fly Reels

  • The main key point to choosing a fly reel is to pick one that can hold the necessary amount of backing and fly line for the weight of rod that you are fishing with.  If you purchased a 5 weight fly rod, make sure you are choosing a fly reel that will accommodate fly line weights from 4-6.  Most fly reels will be available in different models to accommodate a range of fly line weights.  Just make sure that you find yours within that range.  By choosing the correct size of fly reel, you will make sure that it holds an adequate amount of backing for that time when the fish you hook makes the run of his life.
  • Another key point in choosing a fly reel is the drag system on the fly reel.  This is typically what distinguishes the $300-$400 dollar fly reel from the $50 dollar fly reel.  This is also where it becomes important to determine what type of fly fishing you are doing and the species of fish.  An inexpensive drag system will not hold up to hard running fish such as saltwater bonefish.  However, for your typical trout species an inexpensive drag system will be sufficient.
  • Again, choosing the correct size fly reel will also make sure that it is weighted appropriately to balance out your fly rod to help prevent extra fatigue when casting for extended periods of time.

Recommendations for Choosing a Fly Reel

Ross Flyrise Fly Reel - The Fly Fishing BasicsMy recommendation for choosing a fly reel is to find one that you like, is the correct size, and doesn’t break the bank.  That may sound like a vague answer, but it holds true.  If you have $200-$400 to spend on your first fly reel and it doesn’t get you in trouble, you will come away with a fantastic piece of fly fishing equipment.  Some options in that range include the Ross Evolution LT Fly Reels or the Lamson Lightspeed Hard Alox Reels.  If you have $50-$150 to spend, you can still come away with a phenomenal fly reel to get you started with the fly fishing basics and on your way to learning how to fly fish.  Some great options in that range include the Waterworks Lamson Konic Fly Reels, the Ross Flystart Fly Reels, or the Ross Flyrise Fly Fishing Reels.  I highly recommend the Ross and Lamson (Waterworks) fly reels.  They are high quality even in their entry-level fly reels and will provide you with years of use.

Choosing a fly reel can seem daunting at first because of the sheer number of options.  Don’t let this get you down and just head to your local fly shop to check them out in person.  When doing so, follow the key points above and you should be good to go in choosing a fly reel.

As usual, be sure to sign up for the newsletter and follow me on FacebookTwitter, or Google+.  Also share this with any of your friends that may be looking into choosing a fly reel and also in learning more about how to fly fish and the fly fishing basics.  If you have any questions or comments, be sure to leave them in the comments below or contact me and I’d be happy to help.

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 25+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

  • Mark

    I just bought a hardy (demon 7000) and a Sage VSP 6wt pole. I know the reel is a 7,8,9 wt and the pole is a 6wt Will this still work? I am relatively new to fly fishing, Just a few years into it, and mainly fish on the Kenai and Russian river in Alaska for larger rainbows, dollies, and the occasional silver. I’m just looking To reassure myself on my purchase both were new, and I paid $400 for the both of them. Thought it was a good buy from the research I did, what do you think?

    Thanks For any help?

    • Mark,

      The short answer is yes, it will still work. One benefit of having the larger reel is that if you decide to upgrade the rod in the future to a heavier line weight, that reel will work great. Another benefit of the larger reel, especially when fishing for hard fighting fish that tend to produce strong and long runs (those Alaskan rainbows) is that your reel has the capacity for more backing for fighting these fish. Adding to it is that typically larger weight fly reels are designed for harder fighting fish and because of that produce stronger and better quality drag systems.

      The only downside I can see, and it is just a minor one, is that the larger weight reel might skew the balance of the rod just a bit. Typically the reel weights that match the rods by line weight create a balance of the rod and reel combo in hand. This helps to reduce fatigue when casting and fishing for long periods of time. In your case, with the Sage rod being a 6wt and the reel being the 7/8/9, it shouldn’t have too much of an affect. It may be a bit on the heavy side and you may notice the reel end of the setup when fishing is a bit heavier, but I would bet it won’t be too significant for you.

      Overall I think you got a great deal and setup for the type of fishing you’re doing. Hardy and Sage both make phenomenal products that don’t disappoint. I hope that helps you out some. If you have any other questions, please let me know. Tight lines Mark!

  • BoB

    I sat here and read just about everyone of your articles and I must say that they were the most informative, easy to understand, and they gave you an idea of just what your need, why you need it, and how to use it. Great writing, keep up the good work. Thanks Bob.

    • Thank you Bob! Glad you found the articles valuable. If you ever have any questions or are interested in a topic you don’t see here, please let me know. Tight lines!

  • Morgan Hanson

    I’m about to but a Hardy Artisan 5w can anyone please advice me if I should go for Hardy perfect reel 5.7 ounces or Heritage Bougle at 4.1 ounces? How important is the 1.6 ounce difference in balancing this very light Rod??
    Many thanks

  • Nancy Nolin

    I have a Lamson Konic 2 reel II. I use it on my 5w Rod. Is it possible to use this reel on an 8 or 9 wt rod as well or do I need to purchase another reel? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

    • Hi Nancy,
      The Konic 2 size 2 reel that you have is ideally suited for the 5/6 wt rods like you are using it on. You may be able to get away with using an 8wt line on this, but I would probably recommend against it. By putting the larger line on that smaller reel, you’ll end up sacrificing backing along with using a reel that is far lighter than what 8/9 wt rods are designed for. Those larger rods are designed to balance with heavier reels. This will throw off the balance and could cause casting fatigue much easier. Hope that helps answer your question. Let me know if you have any others!

      • Nancy Nolin

        Thank you very much for the information! I appreciate your time. Guess it’s time to go shopping for a new reel🎣

  • Chief Hosa

    Great article! Thanks
    My question is I have a 9′ 5 weight Orvis TLX with a Konic 2 reel. I was considering moving to a Guru 1.5 or something in the Lamson family in the smaller reel size. Is that advisable or should I just look at a 3-4 weight rod and reel and stay in the “2” size for my TLX? What say ye?

    • You can move to the smaller reel for your 5 weight, but there are some tradeoffs. One is that the smaller reel may throw off the balance of the rod and reel combo since the smaller reel is obviously lighter than what you currently have. This may not be a huge issue, but improperly balanced outfits can lead to casting fatigue over time. Secondly, the smaller reel will decrease your backing/line capacity when using the 5 weight line on it. If you’re not needing that much backing and don’t anticipate ever needing it, you would probably be ok. I would personally say to look into a 3-4 weight rod and stick to the Konic 2 for your 5 weight. The added benefit is it gives you another setup to play around with for different situations. Hope that helps!

  • Bob

    Hi Clint I have a 9 Ft 9 Weight GL Loomis 3 Rod. Would a Hardy Ultralight CADD 7000 be an appropriate reel? I fish Atlantic salmon

    • That looks like an amazing reel Bob. Look at MODEL#HRECADT060 of the reel to give you the 8/9/10 line weight coverage and you should be good to go. Hardy makes some amazing equipment, so you should be happy with something like that for salmon. If you decide to pick one up, let me know how you like it.

  • Ben Echols

    Hi there Clint! Great article, very helpful. I’ve been looking into reel options recently and really like the Hydros SL by Orvis but in the options menu for the reel it lists 3-5 weight and 5-7 weight options, which one should I go with? And also what line would you suggest I put on it? It will be put on a 9′ 5 weight rod, fishing streams and smaller rivers if pertinent.

  • Thomas

    Clint, new to this and I want to start fly fishing for bluegill and crappie from the bank. What rod/reel combo would you recommend for a beginner under these circumstances?